Team Previews: American Athletic Conference (AAC)

The American has been the leader of the Group of Five for the majority of the College Football Playoff (CFP) era, and with Cincinnati cracking the glass ceiling to reach the national semifinal, that point was only further proven.

With UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston leaving for the Big XII next season, the American will lose a lot of its luster and have to compete with the growing Sun Belt as well as the Mountain West for Group of Five superiority.

In this preview, we’ll take a look at each team’s projected SP+ rankings and Returning Production Percentage to analyze their recent recruiting, returning production, and overall program health heading into the 2022 season. We’ll also have conference predictions and early game-by-game picks.

UCF Knights

2021 Record: 9-4 (5-3 AAC)
Bowl Result: Gasparillo Bowl vs Florida (W, 29-17)
Returning Production: 69%
SP+ Ranking: 9.5 (3rd AAC, 39th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs South Carolina State
L vs Louisville
W @ FAU
W vs Georgia Tech
L vs SMU
W vs Temple
W @ East Carolina
L vs Cincinnati
W @ Memphis
W @ Tulane
W vs Navy
W @ South Florida

Record Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 AAC)

UCF returns a decent amount of defensive talent and was able to land Ole Miss transfer QB John Rhys Plumlee, who will be continuing his football AND baseball careers for the Knights. The early season home game against Louisville will be a telling sign for how this team will fare in conference play.

Cincinnati Bearcats

2021 Record: 13-1 (8-0 AAC)
Bowl Result: CFP Semifinal: Cotton Bowl Classic vs #1 Alabama (L, 27-6)
Returning Production: 60%
SP+ Ranking: 16.8 (1st AAC, 11th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Arkansas
W vs Kennesaw State
W vs Miami (OH) (Paul Brown Stadium: Cincinnati, OH)
W vs Indiana
W @ Tulsa
W vs South Florida
W @ SMU
W @ UCF
W vs Navy
W vs East Carolina
W @ Temple
W vs Tulane

Record Prediction: 11-1 (8-0 AAC)

The Bearcats lose a ton of talent at key positions with QB Desmond Ridder, RB Jerome Ford, WR Alec Pierce, and star CBs Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner all hoping to make an NFL impact. Much of the offensive and defensive front lines are returning with a bulk of the load being placed on QB Evan Prater, who may assume the starting role.

East Carolina Pirates

2021 Record: 7-5 (5-3 AAC)
Bowl Result: Military Bowl vs Boston College (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 71%
SP+ Ranking: -2.2 (8th AAC, 81st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L vs NC State
W vs Old Dominion
W vs Campbell
W vs Navy
L @ South Florida
W @ Tulane
W vs Memphis
L vs UCF
L @ BYU
L @ Cincinnati
L vs Houston
W @ Temple

Record Prediction: 6-6 (4-4 AAC)

Even the games that the Pirates lost last year, they managed to hang around for a while. A lot of that offensive production was lost after the season, which concluded with a Military Bowl cancelation. The Pirates have a tough test against ACC upstart NC State at home and a rough stretch of games towards the end of the season with UCF, BYU, Cincinnati, and Houston (all of whom will be in the Big XII in 2023).

Houston Cougars

2021 Record: 12-2 (8-0 AAC)
Bowl Result: Birmingham Bowl vs Auburn (W, 17-13)
Returning Production: 64%
SP+ Ranking: 8.2 (4th AAC, 44th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ UTSA
W @ Texas Tech
W vs Kansas
W vs Rice
W vs Tulane
W @ Memphis
W @ Navy
W vs South Florida
L @ SMU
W vs Temple
W @ East Carolina
W vs Tulsa

Record Prediction: 11-1 (7-1 AAC)

The Cougars are coming off a conference championship game appearance and are looking to take advantage of the holes in Cincinnati’s lost star power to possibly win the conference this season. Luckily for Houston, they avoid Cincinnati again in the regular season and return fifth-year QB Clayton Tune.

Memphis Tigers

2021 Record: 6-6 (3-5 AAC)
Bowl Result: Hawai’i Bowl vs Hawai’i (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 69%
SP+ Ranking: 4.0 (5th AAC, 59th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Mississippi State
W @ Navy
W vs Arkansas State
W vs North Texas
W vs Temple
L vs Houston
L @ East Carolina
L @ Tulane
L vs UCF
W vs Tulsa
W vs North Alabama
L @ SMU

Record Prediction: 6-6 (3-5 AAC)

After the disappointing cancelation of last year’s Hawai’i Bowl, the Tigers will be looking to build on a mediocre season in a top-heavy American. The stability of the team is there with four starters returning on the offensive line, but Memphis needs to find some weapons to compete with the other offenses in the league.

Navy Midshipmen

2021 Record: 4-8 (3-5 AAC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 53%
SP+ Ranking: -12.2 (10th AAC, 113th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W vs Delaware
L vs Memphis
L @ East Carolina
L @ Air Force
W vs Tulsa
L @ SMU
L vs Houston
W vs Temple
L @ Cincinnati
L vs Notre Dame (M&T Bank Stadium: Baltimore, MD)
L @ UCF
L vs Army (Lincoln Financial Field: Philadelphia, PA)

Record Prediction: 3-9 (2-6)

Navy has the ultimate offense to keep any game close, as they showed in 2021. They controlled the clock well and made few mistakes. An abundance of close losses doomed the Midshipmen, but a season-ending victory over Army was a good consolation prize.

SMU Mustangs

2021 Record: 8-4 (4-4)
Bowl Result: Wasabi Bowl vs Virginia (Game Canceled)
Returning Production: 73%
SP+ Ranking: 10.9 (2nd AAC, 33rd Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ North Texas
W vs Lamar
W @ Maryland
L vs TCU
W @ UCF
W vs Navy
L vs Cincinnati
W @ Tulsa
W vs Houston
W @ South Florida
W @ Tulane
W vs Memphis

Record Prediction: 10-2 (7-1 AAC)

SMU returns QB Tanner Mordecai and has the 17th offensive production ranking in the nation, which is tops in the American. Out-of-conference games against Maryland and cross-town rival TCU will be pivotal to SMU’s season. SMU has to go through the top of the conference against Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF in order to have a shot at the conference title.

South Florida Bulls

2021 Record: 2-10 (1-7 AAC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 85%
SP+ Ranking: -5.2 (9th AAC, 89th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L vs BYU
W vs Howard
L @ Florida
L @ Louisville
W vs East Carolina
L @ Cincinnati
W vs Tulane
L @ Houston
W @ Temple
L vs SMU
L @ Tulsa
L vs UCF

Record Prediction: 4-8 (3-5 AAC)

The Bulls have a rough nonconference slate of games between BYU, Florida, and Louisville, leaving little room for confidence boosting heading into conference play. They also draw the entire top half of the conference with Cincinnati, Houston, SMU, and UCF. With the second most returning production in the country, a push for a bowl game is still possible.

Temple Owls

2021 Record: 3-9 (1-7 AAC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 66%
SP+ Ranking: -14.2 (11th AAC, 118th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
L @ Duke
W vs Lafayette
L vs Rutgers
W vs UMass
L @ Memphis
L @ UCF
L vs Tulsa
L @ Navy
L vs South Florida
L @ Houston
L vs Cincinnati
L vs East Carolina

Record Prediction: 2-10 (0-8 AAC)

Temple was dead last in the conference last season and had one of the worst offenses in college football. With minimal returners, a new HC in Stan Drayton, and a difficult conference slate, it could be another rough season for the Owls.

Tulane Green Wave

2021 Record: 2-10 (1-7 AAC)
Bowl Result: N/A
Returning Production: 71%
SP+ Ranking: 0.2 (6th AAC, 71st Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ UMass
W vs Alcorn State
L @ Kansas State
W vs Southern Miss
L @ Houston
L vs East Carolina
L @ South Florida
W vs Memphis
L @ Tulsa
L vs UCF
L vs SMU
L @ Cincinnati

Record Prediction: 4-8 (1-7 AAC)

Getting into bowl eligibility this season would be a massive upgrade from a team who finished with two wins in 2021. With a young backfield returning to an offense that ranks 41st in SP+, there could be signs of further improvement down the road.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

2021 Record: 7-6 (5-3 AAC)
Bowl Result: Myrtle Beach Bowl vs Old Dominion (W, 30-17)
Returning Production: 57%
SP+ Ranking: -1.5 (7th AAC, 79th Nationally)

Season Prediction:
W @ Wyoming
L vs Northern Illinois
W vs Jacksonville State
L @ Ole Miss
L vs Cincinnati
L @ Navy
W @ Temple
L vs SMU
W vs Tulane
L @ Memphis
W vs South Florida
L @ Houston

Record Prediction: 5-7 (3-5 AAC)

Tulsa was a pesky team in 2021. After their opening loss to FCS UC Davis, they took Oklahoma State and Ohio State to the fourth quarter in both of their next two games. Notably, they nearly forced an overtime against Cincinnati on the road, which certainly would have derailed the Bearcats’ playoff chances. With a lot of production now gone, Tulsa could fall behind in the top-heavy American.

Conference Standings Prediction

RANKTEAMRECORD
1Cincinnati Bearcats11-1 (8-0)
2SMU Mustangs10-2 (7-1)
3Houston Cougars11-1 (7-1)
4UCF Knights9-3 (6-2)
5East Carolina Pirates6-6 (4-4)
6Memphis Tigers6-6 (3-5)
7Tulsa Golden Hurricane5-7 (3-5)
8South Florida Bulls4-8 (3-5)
9Navy Midshipmen3-9 (2-6)
10Tulane Green Wave4-8 (1-7)
11Temple Owls2-10 (0-8)

Conference Championship Game:
Cincinnati: 52
SMU: 42

If 2017 Had a 12-Team Playoff

The College Football Playoff in 2017 featured Clemson (12-1), reigning national champions and winners of the ACC, Oklahoma (12-1), winners of the Big XII, Georgia (12-1), winners of the SEC, and Alabama (12-1), SEC West runner-ups.

In its fourth season, the top four teams were pretty clear-cut. Ohio State, winners of the Big Ten, was ranked fifth due to their two losses to Oklahoma (the famous Baker Mayfield flag-planting game, 31-16) and Iowa (a massive road upset, 55-24).

#6 Wisconsin lost their only game to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, pushing them out of the fourth spot. Auburn, who finished ranked #7 at 10-3, had wins over Alabama (the Crimson Tide’s only loss) and Georgia, but lost the rematch to the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. #8 USC won the Pac-12, but also had two losses.

For this hypothetical, we’ll give the top six conference champions the top six seeds, with six at-larges being the seven through 12 seeds. We’ll also add in a re-seeding process after each round, just like the NFL playoffs.

Playoff Teams:

#1 Clemson (ACC Champ, 12-1)
#2 Oklahoma (Big XII Champ, 12-1)
#3 Georgia (SEC Champ, 12-1)
#4 Ohio State (Big Ten Champ, 11-2)
#5 USC (Pac-12 Champ, 11-2)
#6 UCF (American Conference Champ, 12-0)
#7 Alabama (SEC At-Large, 11-1)
#8 Wisconsin (Big Ten At-Large, 12-1)
#9 Auburn (SEC At-Large, 10-3)
#10 Penn State (Big Ten At-Large, 10-2)
#11 Miami (ACC At-Large, 10-2)
#12 Washington (Pac-12 At-Large, 10-2)

Number of Teams by Conference:

Big Ten: 3
SEC: 3
ACC: 2
Pac-12: 2
American: 1
Big XII: 1

Debate Rundown:

The debate for the final spots was between Miami, Stanford, TCU, and Washington.

Stanford had the head-to-head over Washington, but also suffered four losses (two to USC). Three of those losses were by three points, whereas Washington only had two losses and capped off their season by beating a ranked Washington State, 41-14. TCU was also a strong candidate because of their win over Oklahoma State, who finished with 10 wins. TCU suffered losses to Iowa State and Oklahoma (twice). If they would’ve kept the Big XII Championship Game closer, they would’ve stood a better chance.

Miami started off the year 10-0 before losing a close game in Pittsburgh and getting throttled by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Washington didn’t play for the Pac-12 title due to their two close losses to Arizona State and Stanford. Their Apple Cup victory over 9-2 Washington State to end the regular season is what gives them the bid.

UCF was the lone undefeated team and was ranked 12th in the final CFP rankings, giving them the sixth automatic bid as a conference champion. Boise State (10-3) had a strong season as well, losing a triple OT game to Washington State while also falling to Virginia and Fresno State. They would avenge their loss to Fresno the following week in the Mountain West Championship Game.

First Round Rundown:

#12 Washington @ #5 USC
Los Angeles, California
USC and Washington never met in Pac-12 play this season, so this would have been a must watch classic and probably the night game for the first round. USC was playing as well as anybody toward the end of the season behind QB Sam Darnold. The Trojans would have likely taken this Pac-12 battle.

#11 Miami @ #6 UCF
Orlando, Florida
This would have made for a fun in-state matchup in the first round. With Miami skidding off the path of their unbeaten season late in 2017, UCF was riding high. The Knights had one of the best offenses in the country and arguably would have been favored in this hypothetical matchup.

#10 Penn State @ #7 Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
The Nittany Lions were fantastic in 2017, only losing to Ohio State by one and Michigan State by three in back-to-back games. Alabama’s defense against RB Saquon Barkley would’ve been an interesting storyline.

#9 Auburn @ #8 Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin
The Badgers and Tigers were both losers of their conference championship games. While the SEC West was better than the Big Ten West, both teams posted stout defenses in 2017. A northern winter game would’ve benefited Wisconsin in this defensive showdown.

Quarterfinals Rundown:

#8 Wisconsin @ #1 Clemson
Clemson, South Carolina
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor and his offensive line would’ve been an awesome battle to watch against Clemson’s young, up and coming defensive front. The dynamic of this game would’ve pushed the needle to either side, especially with the strength of both defenses.

#7 Alabama @ #2 Oklahoma
Norman, Oklahoma
QB Baker Mayfield’s 2017 Oklahoma team was the best shot that the Sooners had at winning a national title. A double overtime thriller against Georgia in the CFP semifinals showed just how competitive this offense was. Alabama, on the other hand, won the national championship over Georgia in overtime. Those three teams were probably the closest in talent that CFP teams have ever been, and a hypothetical home game for the Sooners could’ve given them a victory.

#6 UCF @ #3 Georgia
Athens, Georgia
UCF capped off the actual 2017 season with a victory over Auburn, a team that Georgia was able to take out in the SEC title game after losing to them handily just three weeks prior. The Bulldogs and their trio of RBs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift would’ve been favored over the upset-seeking Knights.

#5 USC @ #4 Ohio State
Columbus, Ohio
The Trojans and Buckeyes met in the actual Rose Bowl this season; Ohio State won that game handily, 24-7. OSU and QB J.T. Barrett would’ve clinched a semifinal berth in their home stadium.

Semifinals Rundown:

#8 Wisconsin vs #2 Oklahoma
Rose Bowl: Pasadena, California
In a matchup that hasn’t been seen since 1970, the Sooners and Badgers would’ve met in a potential Rose Bowl matchup. Oklahoma would’ve been the favorite as they emerged as one of the more efficient all-around offenses in the country.

#4 Ohio State vs #3 Georgia
Sugar Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s hard to imagine that this game would’ve been close for the Buckeyes, who struggled at various times throughout the season. The Georgia offense would’ve been the best that Ohio State has seen since Oklahoma’s in their week two loss.

CFP National Championship:

#3 Georgia vs #2 Oklahoma
Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Atlanta, Georgia
The Bulldogs won an instant classic in the actual 2017 Rose Bowl against the Sooners, which is one of the greatest semifinal games of the CFP era. In this hypothetical scenario, Georgia and Oklahoma meet again in Atlanta for the national championship.

CFP National Champions: Georgia Bulldogs


If 2014 Had a 12-Team Playoff

The inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014 featured Alabama (12-1), winners of the SEC, Oregon (12-1), winners of the Pac-12, Florida State (13-0), reigning national champions and winners of the ACC, and Ohio State (12-1), winners of the Big Ten.

In its first season, there were already debates as to who should be the four teams in the playoff. A lot of the debate centered around Ohio State, who had a bad loss to Virginia Tech early in the year, getting in the playoff over one-loss Big XII co-champs Baylor and TCU.

Even though Baylor beat TCU in the regular season, the Big XII gave both teams a share of the league title (The Big XII did not have a conference championship game from 2011 to 2016). The move by the Big XII certainly didn’t help the conference’s playoff chances, but fortunately for the playoff committee, the four-seed Ohio State Buckeyes won the whole thing.

For this hypothetical, we’ll give the top six conference champions the top six seeds, with six at-larges being the seven through 12 seeds. We’ll also add in a re-seeding process after each round, just like the NFL playoffs.

Playoff Teams:

#1 Alabama (SEC Champ, 12-1)
#2 Oregon (Pac-12 Champ, 12-1)
#3 Florida State (ACC Champ, 13-0)
#4 Ohio State (Big Ten Champ, 12-1)
#5 Baylor (Big XII Champ, 11-1)
#6 Marshall (Conference USA Champ, 12-1)
#7 TCU (Big XII At-Large, 11-1)
#8 Michigan State (Big Ten At-Large, 10-2)
#9 Ole Miss (SEC At-Large, 9-3)
#10 Mississippi State (SEC At-Large, 10-2)
#11 Georgia Tech (ACC At-Large, 10-3)
#12 Kansas State (Big XII At-Large, 9-3)

Number of Teams by Conference:

Big XII: 3
SEC: 3
ACC: 2
Big Ten: 2
Conference USA: 1
Pac-12: 1

Debate Rundown:

The debate for the final spots was between Arizona, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, and UCLA.

Arizona and UCLA both had three losses, with the Bruins winning the head-to-head contest during the season. Neither team finished the season strong as UCLA lost to Stanford by three touchdowns to prevent them from playing in the conference championship game while Arizona got pummeled by Oregon in their place.

Georgia Tech had a memorable season and almost pulled off the upset over undefeated Florida State for the ACC title. Kansas State only lost to Baylor, TCU, and Auburn, but played all of them tough. For those reasons, Georgia Tech and Kansas State received the final two bids.

Boise State finished ahead of Marshall in the final CFP rankings in 2014, but the Broncos had two losses (to playoff bound Ole Miss and an Air Force team that finished 10-3). Marshall’s lone loss was a 67-66 overtime classic against Western Kentucky.

First Round Rundown:

#12 Kansas State @ #5 Baylor
Waco, Texas
The first round consisted of a rematch between Kansas State and Baylor, which gives the Bears the head-to-head edge based on the regular season result.

#11 Georgia Tech @ #6 Marshall
Huntington, West Virginia
Georgia Tech played all of their ACC opponents tough in 2014, giving them the edge over Conference USA’s Marshall in Huntington.

#10 Mississippi State @ #7 TCU
Fort Worth, Texas
QB Treyvon Boykin’s TCU offense was simply too prolific for Mississippi State and QB Dak Prescott, who began to slip at the tail end of the season after being the first top-ranked team in the CFP’s initial rankings; granted, the Bulldogs played a monstrous schedule.

#9 Ole Miss @ #8 Michigan State
East Lansing, Michigan
In the final first round game, Ole Miss and Michigan State would meet in a tossup that favors the Spartans, whose two losses came at the hands of Oregon and Ohio State – both played in the actual CFP final that year.

Quarterfinals Rundown:

#11 Georgia Tech @ #1 Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
After the reseeding, Georgia Tech would run into the buzz saw that was Alabama’s offense. With NFL talents in WR Amari Cooper and RB Derrick Henry, the Yellow Jackets would not be favored to win.

#8 Michigan State @ #2 Oregon
Eugene, Oregon
Michigan State would rematch with QB Marcus Mariota’s Oregon, but would have a difficult time overcoming the 19-point defeat they suffered in early September.

#7 TCU @ #3 Florida State
Tallahassee, Florida
TCU was on fire in 2014 while Florida State won four straight one-possession games to close their season. Despite the Seminoles’ unblemished record, TCU would have the advantage in a hypothetical quarterfinal.

#5 Baylor @ #4 Ohio State
Columbus, Ohio
Baylor and Ohio State would be an interesting matchup, but RB Ezekiel Elliot finished the actual 2014 season with 200+ yard rushing performances against Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon. The mid-2000s was the peak of the Big XII stereotype that the conference played bad defense. This Baylor team was no exception.

Semifinals Rundown:

#7 TCU vs #1 Alabama
Sugar Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana
TCU didn’t have the defense that Alabama had, so they would’ve had to rely on a shootout to get the win over the Crimson Tide. This game has the hypothetical logic of being close, but the odds go in favor of number one.

#4 Ohio State vs #2 Oregon
Rose Bowl: Pasadena, California
Ohio State played Oregon in the first ever CFP national championship, winning 42-20. The head-to-head matchup that occurred in the postseason is valid information to use for a potential semifinal match, which would have been a perfect Big Ten / Pac-12 Rose Bowl.

CFP National Championship:

#4 Ohio State vs #1 Alabama
AT&T Stadium: Arlington, Texas
The Buckeyes rallied to come back from 15 points down in the 2014 semifinal Sugar Bowl against Alabama behind RB Ezekiel Elliot and an efficient Cardale Jones at QB. The dynamic of winning two playoff games before the national championship certainly could’ve altered that result, but Ohio State was too much for Alabama in the second half in 2014.

CFP National Champions: Ohio State Buckeyes




Predicting the 2022 College GameDay Locations

College GameDay predictions for the 2022 season:

Week 0: Northwestern vs Nebraska (Dublin, Ireland)

The Week 0 schedule is predictably slim. This matchup in Ireland, if it takes place under the state of the current pandemic, is the only one between two Power Five schools. Nebraska and Northwestern both finished 3-9 last season (1-8 Big Ten), with Nebraska winning the home contest between the two, 56-7.

Runner-Up: Vanderbilt @ Hawai’i
3rd: Florida A&M @ North Carolina
4th: Wyoming @ Illinois
5th: Duquesne @ Florida State

Week 1: Notre Dame @ Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)

Former Buckeye linebacker Marcus Freeman will be starting his first full season as the Notre Dame Head Coach, making this the most intriguing matchup in Week 1. Both teams finished in the top ten of the final AP poll last year as Ohio State won the Rose Bowl and Notre Dame lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Runner-Up: Oregon vs Georgia (Atlanta, Georgia)
3rd: Utah @ Florida
4th: Cincinnati @ Arkansas
5th: Memphis @ Mississippi State

Week 2: Alabama @ Texas (Austin, Texas)

This matchup between two future SEC opponents will be the most intriguing, especially with Texas’ QB situation. Hudson Card will try to hold off Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers for the job as reigning Heisman Trophy winning QB Bryce Young will be leading the Tide.

Runner-Up: Iowa State @ Iowa
3rd: Baylor @ BYU
4th: South Carolina @ Arkansas
5th: Kentucky @ Florida

Week 3: Miami @ Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)

With Miami revamping their program and landing Mario Cristobal as their new head coach, they’ll head to College Station to take on the Aggies. Like Kirby Smart’s Georgia team from last year, Jimbo Fisher will have his hands full with the preseason hype surrounding his recent recruiting success.

Runner-Up: Mississippi State @ LSU
3rd: Oklahoma @ Nebraska
4th: Penn State @ Auburn
5th: Georgia @ South Carolina

Week 4: Clemson @ Wake Forest (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

Both of these teams have a high chance of entering this game 3-0. With Clemson wanting to compete for a playoff spot after a down year in which they finished 10-3, they’ll have a chance to prove themselves against returning Demon Deacons QB Sam Hartman.

Runner-Up: Wisconsin @ Ohio State
3rd: Indiana @ Cincinnati
4th: Kansas State @ Oklahoma
5th: Notre Dame @ North Carolina

Week 5: Michigan @ Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa)

A rematch of last year’s Big Ten Championship Game, this will be an early-season test for both programs that could set the tone for the entire conference. Oklahoma State also travels to Baylor for a rematch of last year’s Big XII Championship Game. Iowa State could play spoiler to either Iowa or Baylor’s GameDay-hosting chances, as the Cyclones play both of them in the first four weeks of the season.

Runner-Up: Oklahoma State @ Baylor
3rd: Kentucky @ Ole Miss
4th: Alabama @ Arkansas
5th: Texas A&M @ Mississippi State

Week 6: Texas vs Oklahoma (Dallas, Texas)

Oklahoma defeated Texas in last year’s classic Red River showdown

Last year’s epic Red River Rivalry did not disappoint and depending on how each team is doing, this will be the likely spot GameDay returns to in 2022. Texas A&M also travels to Alabama to try and go back-to-back on the Tide in division play.

Runner-Up: Texas A&M @ Alabama
3rd: Notre Dame vs BYU (Las Vegas, Nevada)
4th: Ohio State @ Michigan State
5th: Tennessee @ LSU

Week 7: USC @ Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)

With major Pac-12 South implications on the line, reigning conference champion Utah welcomes Lincoln Riley’s USC to Salt Lake City. With QB Caleb Williams also making the move from Norman to Los Angeles, this should be a classic high-scoring Pac-12 matchup.

Runner-Up: Penn State @ Michigan
3rd: Alabama @ Tennessee
4th: LSU @ Florida
5th: Auburn @ Ole Miss

Week 8: Ole Miss @ LSU (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin will look to build on last year’s success as he takes on new LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly, who made the move from Notre Dame last season.

Runner-Up: Cincinnati @ SMU
3rd: Texas A&M @ South Carolina
4th: Iowa @ Ohio State
5th: Texas @ Oklahoma State

Week 9: Ohio State @ Penn State (State College, Pennsylvania)

Week 9 has major Big Ten East implications as the Buckeyes travel to State College and Michigan State travels to Michigan. The GameDay crew will probably travel to Pennsylvania for the annual white-out game depending on how the division is shaking out.

Runner-Up: Michigan State @ Michigan
3rd: Florida vs Georgia (Jacksonville, Florida)
4th: Ole Miss @ Texas A&M
5th: Kentucky @ Tennessee

Week 10: Clemson @ Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana)

Notre Dame brings Clemson into South Bend the same weekend as Nick Saban travels to Baton Rouge to take on former Irish coach Brian Kelly. Depending on how these teams are doing will determine who starts hosting a lot of these late-season matchups.

Runner-Up: Alabama @ LSU
3rd: Houston @ SMU
4th: Baylor @ Oklahoma
5th: Tennessee @ Georgia

Week 11: Alabama @ Ole Miss (Oxford, Mississippi)

Week 11 has the potential to not see a lot of ranked matchups as the top teams rise and prepare for the end-of-season rivalries, possibly paving the way for an FCS GameDay location. Either way, ESPN has been a fan of traveling to Oxford for the GameDay atmosphere.

Runner-Up: Wisconsin @ Iowa
3rd: Harvard @ Penn
4th: Eastern Washington @ Montana
5th: Pittsburgh @ Virginia

Week 12: Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (Norman, Oklahoma)

The Pokes’ victory over the Sooners last season was their first since 2014 en route to a Big XII title game spot. This game will likely be a conference championship game eliminator.

Runner-Up: Utah @ Oregon
3rd: USC @ UCLA
4th: Georgia @ Kentucky
5th: Tennessee @ South Carolina

Week 13: Michigan @ Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)

Last year was Michigan’s first win over Ohio State since 2011 as the Wolverines claimed the Big Ten and made their first College Football Playoff. The game in Columbus should be another one with extreme postseason buildup as both the Buckeyes and Wolverines return a lot of offensive pieces.

Runner-Up: Auburn @ Alabama
3rd: LSU @ Texas A&M
4th: Notre Dame @ USC
5th: Louisville @ Kentucky

Week 14: SEC Championship Game (Atlanta, Georgia)

The SEC has gotten two of the four playoff bids twice (2017 & 2021), which has made their conference championship game the most impactful of them all. The ACC is the only other conference to send two teams to the playoff in a single season; they did so in 2020 thanks to Notre Dame playing an ACC schedule.

Runner-Up: Big Ten Championship Game
3rd: Big XII Championship Game
4th: ACC Championship Game
5th: Pac-12 Championship Game

Week 15: Army vs Navy (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

College GameDay makes a point of going to Army and Navy at the end of the regular season. It’s historically a low-scoring, run-heavy matchup that features some of the best uniform combinations of the season.

Let us know what you think!

Reclaiming & Disputing College Football National Champions: The 1890s

The 1890s was a transformative decade of college athletics as colleges and universities began to move towards organized league play. The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association consisted of teams now in the SEC and ACC, while states like Colorado and Indiana formed their own associations of schools. Perhaps the most organized of these leagues was the Western Conference, which would later be known as the Big Ten.

While the Ivy League independents were still established as the top contenders, the age of playing organized conference schedules was growing across the rest of the country.

1890

Claimed Champions: Harvard

Contenders:
Harvard (11-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Colorado Mines (6-0), Furman (2-0), Harvard (11-0), Nebraska (2-0), Vanderbilt (1-0), Washington University (Saint Louis) (2-0), & Williams College (5-0)

Harvard’s first national title claim did not come easy, as their season finale against Yale was a 12-6 bloodbath. In front of a crowd of 17,000, the Crimson knocked off the Bulldog dynasty for the first time in eleven attempts.

New Champions: Harvard

1891

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (13-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Duke (3-0), Ohio Wesleyan (4-0), Purdue (4-0), Wake Forest (1-0), & Yale (13-0)

Yale shut out every single one of their opponents in 1891, but what was even more impressive was how they capped off their season.

On November 21, the Bulldogs took down undefeated reigning national champs Harvard by a score of 10-0. Five days later, they beat another undefeated opponent in Princeton. The game against the Tigers presumably took place in front of a whopping 40,000 people at Manhattan Field in New York.

New Champions: Yale

1892

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (13-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Biddle (Johnson C. Smith University) (1-0), Case (Case Western Reserve) (3-0), Centre College (6-0), Colgate (3-0), Furman (1-0), Mercer (1-0), Minnesota (5-0), North Carolina (1-0), Oberlin (7-0), Purdue (8-0), Saint Mary’s (1-0), Utah Agricultural (Utah State) (1-0), Washington & Jefferson (4-0), & Yale (13-0)

Yale continued their winning streak under Coach Walter Camp, again not allowing a single point to be scored on them. They capped their season off by beating undefeated Harvard for the second year in a row before beating one-loss Princeton.

The 1892 season was also the beginning of the Utah and Utah State rivalry, with Utah State winning the inaugural contest.

New Champions: Yale

1893

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (11-0)
Yale (10-1)
– Loss: vs Princeton (6-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Case Western Reserve (4-0), Central University (Eastern Kentucky) (2-0), Fordham (4-0), Gonzaga (1-0), Howard (2-0), Maryland (6-0), Miami (OH) (3-0), Minnesota (6-0), North Carolina A&M (2-0), Princeton (11-0), Saint Mary’s (1-0), Texas (4-0), Washburn (1-0), & Wyoming (1-0)

Before a crowd of roughly 40,000 people at Polo Grounds in New York, Princeton took down the mighty Yale Bulldogs to end their astonishing 37-game winning streak (1890-1893). The final score was 6-0 as Yale was unable to stop Princeton’s double wingback formation offense.

The Thanksgiving Day contest was scolded by the New York Herald for its prominence on the national holiday: “The kicker is now king and people bow down to him. The gory nose tackler, hero of a hundred scrimmages and half as many wedges, is the idol of the hour,” the review of the game wrote.

Nevertheless, Yale claims the 1893 title despite the season finale loss to an undefeated Princeton squad.

New Champions: Princeton

1894

Claimed Champions: Penn, Princeton, & Yale

Contenders:
Penn (12-0)
Princeton (8-2)
– Losses: vs Penn (12-0), vs Yale (24-0)
Yale (16-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Baldwin Wallace (1-0), Buchtel (Akron) (1-0), Case Western Reserve (7-0), Hampden-Sydney (1-0), North Dakota Agricultural (North Dakota State) (2-0), Penn (12-0), USC (1-0), Villanova (1-0), VMI (6-0), Wyoming (3-0), & Yale (16-0)

Princeton claims a national title in 1894 despite getting shutout by unbeaten Penn and unbeaten Yale. This is an obvious dispute for the program that claims the most national titles in all of college football.

Penn finished the year undefeated and never met Yale, resulting in a split title. Yale’s 16-0 record would not be matched by another college football team until 2019, when North Dakota State would win the FCS title with the same record.

Ironically enough, the 1894 season was North Dakota State’s first as a program. They finished 2-0 by beating current conference foe North Dakota twice.

New Champions: Penn & Yale

1895

Claimed Champions: Penn & Yale

Contenders:
Penn (14-0)
Yale (13-0-2)
– Ties: vs Boston Athletic Association (0-0), at Brown (6-6)

Unblemished Recognition: Arkansas (1-0), Carthage College (2-0), Henry Kendall College (Tulsa) (1-0), LSU (3-0), Miami (OH) (3-0), New Mexico A&M (New Mexico State) (2-0), Occidental College (5-0), Oregon (4-0), Penn (14-0), Texas (5-0), Washington Agricultural (Washington State) (2-0), Washington University (Saint Louis) (2-0), & Wyoming (1-0)

Penn capped off a second straight undefeated season and yet again avoided Princeton and Yale on their schedule. Nevertheless, they outscored their opponents 480 to 24.

Yale was not as dominant on the offensive side of the ball as Penn was. Yale ties against the Boston Athletic Association and Brown, who they beat earlier in the year, are what disputes them from claiming this championship.

Despite Yale’s 20-10 season-ending victory over Princeton, Penn is able to claim this title outright.

New Champions: Penn

1896

Claimed Champions: Lafayette & Princeton

Contenders:
Lafayette (11-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton (0-0)
Princeton (10-0-1)
– Tie: at Lafayette (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Carthage College (4-0), Colorado (5-0), Fordham (1-0), Georgia (4-0), LSU (6-0), North Carolina A&M (1-0), Oklahoma (2-0), & Wyoming (2-0)

The story of the year wasn’t the Princeton and Lafayette tie in early October, but the Lafayette victory over Penn in Philadelphia. The win marked the first time that a “smaller” institution beat out one of the Big Four (Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale). This would be Penn’s lone loss on the season.

After Lafayette won three straight games against West Virginia, they enrolled one of West Virginia’s own players – tackle Fielding Yost, who played for them for the remainder of the season. George Barclay, inventor of the football helmet who also played professional baseball the previous summer, also suited up for Lafayette.

Due to obvious eligibility concerns, Lehigh canceled the annual rivalry matchups between the two schools. Eligibility requirements and transfer rules, along with the first non-Big Four champion, represented major changes that were arriving in the sport.

New Champions: Lafayette & Princeton

1897

Claimed Champions: Penn & Yale

Contenders:
Penn (15-0)
Yale (9-0-2)
– Ties: at Army (6-6), at Harvard (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Alabama (1-0), Buffalo (7-0), Butler (3-0), Fairmont (Wichita State) (1-0), Oklahoma (2-0), Oregon Agricultural (Oregon State) (5-0), Penn (15-0), Washington State (2-0), & Wyoming (2-0)

Multiple players from this Penn team were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, including Head Coach George Washington Woodruff. The 15 wins that Penn raked in would be the most by any team until the 2018 Clemson Tigers.

Yale, who tied at Army and Harvard, also claims a title for this season despite their obvious setbacks.

New Champions: Penn

1898

Claimed Champions: Harvard & Princeton

Contenders:
Harvard (11-0)
Michigan (10-0)
Princeton (11-0-1)
– Tie: at Army (5-5)

Unblemished Recognition: Carthage College (3-0), Colorado Mines (8-0), Detroit College (Detroit) (5-0), Drexel (7-0), Harvard (11-0), Kentucky State College (Kentucky), LSU (1-0), Michigan (10-0), North Carolina (9-0), Sewanee (4-0), & Washington University (Saint Louis) (6-0)

Michigan’s 10-0 season was the first undefeated double-digit win season for a team outside of the Big Four. That is not why we put them in our list of contenders for the national title, but rather because of their Western Conference championship in the league’s third season.

Harvard was equally as dominant as the Wolverines and both teams allowed less than 26 total points throughout the regular season. The two played zero common opponents.

Princeton only allowed five points all season long and they were all to Army, who was part of the derailing of Yale’s national title claim season the year prior.

New Champions: Harvard & Michigan

1899

Claimed Champions: Harvard & Princeton

Contenders:
Harvard (10-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Princeton (12-1)
– Loss: at Cornell (5-0)
Sewanee (12-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Arizona Normal (Arizona State) (3-0), Buffalo (6-0), Detroit (5-0), Kansas (10-0), Montana Agricultural (Montana State) (3-0), New Mexico State (1-0), North Dakota (6-0), Sewanee (12-0), Utah State (1-0), & VMI (1-0)

Harvard’s lone blemish came at the end of the season against Yale, 0-0. Princeton was able to beat that Yale team, but also suffered a loss to Cornell. Without going too deep into how the Ivy League powers were losing their unanimous national edge in the sport, that Cornell team lost to Chicago – winners of the Western Conference.

Sewanee demolished nearly every major program in the southeastern United States as they won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Only Auburn, under Head Coach John Heisman, was able to score points on them in a thrilling 11-10 victory. The team was known as the “Iron Men” after pitching five shutout wins over Texas A&M, Texas, Tulane, LSU, and Ole Miss in a matter of a six-day period.

This is another season where a national champion was difficult to predict due to the lack of uniformity the sport had on a national level. The 1900s, with the establishment of postseason games such as the Rose Bowl, were the first true identifier of how certain leagues stacked up against others.

New Champions: Harvard & Sewanee

1890 – 1899

YearChampions
1890Harvard
1891Yale
1892Yale
1893Princeton
1894Penn & Yale
1895Penn
1896Lafayette & Princeton
1897Penn
1898Harvard & Michigan
1899Harvard & Sewanee
New CFB National Champions by Year, 1890 – 1899

Team Totals (up to 1899)

TeamChampionshipsYears
Yale151872, 1874, 1876,
1877, 1880, 1881,
1882, 1883, 1884,
1886, 1887, 1888,
1891, 1892, 1894
Princeton141869, 1870, 1872,
1873, 1874, 1875,
1877, 1878, 1879,
1880, 1885, 1889,
1893, 1896
Harvard31890, 1898, 1899
Lafayette11896
Michigan11898
Rutgers11869
Sewanee11899
New CFB National Champions by Team, 1869 – 1899

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Reclaiming & Disputing College Football National Champions: The 1880s

The second decade of college football re-established what was already known – Princeton and Yale were still king. As college football grew and expanded the length of the country, game scheduling and rule changes became necessary components. Yale graduate Walter Camp became the national leader of the sport as new, universal sets of rules were put in place to appease the needs of the new era.

1880

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (4-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (4-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton

Unblemished Recognition: Kentucky University (Transylvania) (2-0) & Michigan (1-0)

The 1880 season was capped off the same way as it was in 1879, with Princeton and Yale battling to a 0-0 tie on a neutral site. This time, the two squads met in New York City for their contest, rather than the usual neutral site location of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Transylvania beat Centre College two times in a cow pasture and Michigan defeated the University of Toronto across nation’s borders to finish 2-0 and 1-0, respectively.

The Sun described an 1880 matchup between Harvard and Princeton as “a series of wrestling encounters for possession of a large leather globe” – which is essentially the same sport being played today.

New Champions: Princeton & Yale

1881

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (7-0-2)
– Ties: vs Harvard (0-0), vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (5-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Georgetown (1-0), Penn State (1-0), & Richmond (1-0)

Princeton was granted the 1879 title on our scale due to only tying Yale, while Yale also had a tie against Harvard that year. 1881 was the exact opposite of that season, with Yale only having the single tie against Princeton and the victory over Harvard.

For the third consecutive year, Princeton and Yale capped off their seasons with a 0-0 tie at a neutral site. Despite the teams tying each other, Yale was able to take down Harvard during the season as Princeton drew the Crimson to a 0-0 tie.

Richmond took down Randolph-Macon College twice and Penn State defeated Lewisburg (Bucknell), 9-0. However, Bucknell denies the game between the two schools ever happened even though it was reported by newspapers in both State College and Lewisburg.

New Champions: Yale

1882

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (8-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Colorado College (1-0), Navy (1-0), Richmond (1-0), & Yale (8-0)

The early days of college football were obviously dominated by the Ivy League schools, and the 1880s saw the rise of the Yale Bulldogs. They smoked their competition throughout the season, compiling an 8-0 record that included seven shutouts and a season-capping victory over Princeton, 2-1.

New Champions: Yale

1883

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (9-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Carleton (1-0), Gallaudet (2-0), John Hopkins (1-0), & Yale (9-0)

Yale graduate and former player Walter Camp, who is known as the Father of American Football, altered the rules of the game many times before settling on four points for a touchdown, two points for kicks after the touchdowns, two points for safeties, and five points for field goals before the start of the season.

Once again, Yale secured an undefeated season as they plowed their way to a 9-0 record. They closed the year out against Harvard at Polo Grounds in New York, where they won by a score of 23-2; the two points given up were the only points scored on them that season.

New Champions: Yale

1884

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (9-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (8-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Michigan (2-0), Navy (1-0), Wabash (1-0), & Williams College (2-0)

Princeton and Yale dominated much of their respective schedules in 1884 before meeting in the season finale, again held at Polo Grounds.

Both teams entered the game undefeated, and 15,000 spectators came to see the match. The game itself was riddled with injuries and questionable scoring results. Yale was up 6-4 before the game was stopped due to darkness.

The referee who stopped the game stated that “Properly speaking Yale won the game, but on a mere technicality I was forced to call the contest a draw. The rule calls for two full three-quarter-hour innings to be played.”

New Champions: Yale

1885

Claimed Champions: Princeton

Contenders:
Princeton (9-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Colorado College (1-0), Michigan (3-0), & Princeton (9-0)

For the first time since 1878, Princeton was able to take down Yale by a score of 6-5. They would crush Penn five days later to secure the outright national championship as well.

The game versus Yale was defined by Princeton’s Henry “Tillie” Lamar returning a punt 90 yards in the closing minutes of the game to secure the win.

New Champions: Princeton

1886

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (7-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (9-0-1)
– Tie: at Princeton (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Cincinnati (2-0) & Michigan (2-0)

One of the most controversial games of the century was Princeton and Yale’s 0-0 “tie” on Thanksgiving Day. The game, which retroactively was the national championship game, was indeed not a tie at all.

A referee arriving late, heavy rain, and eventual darkness prevented the game from ever being finished. With Yale leading 4-0 in the waning minutes, the game had to be declared a “no contest” and resulted in a 0-0 draw.

The Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) held a special meeting to discuss the Princeton and Yale game, where they agreed that the Bulldogs should have been declared the winner. However, under existing rules at the time, the IFA stated that they did not have the authority to award a winner of the game.

It is impossible to say what would have concluded at the end of the match, as the previous year featured a Princeton game-winning punt return in the final minutes. The 1884 and 1886 seasons are both widely disputed for Princeton’s national title claims in favor of Yale, who was leading in both contests before the games were called off.

New Champions: Yale

1887

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (9-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Butler (3-0), California (4-0), Cincinnati (1-0), Michigan (5-0), Minnesota (2-0), Penn State (2-0), Washington University (Saint Louis) (1-0), & Yale (9-0)

Yale was on fire again in 1887. They beat Wesleyan by a score of 38-0 and then again, ten days later, by a score of 106-0.

They took out their two toughest opponents, Princeton and Harvard, in a five-day span. Their season finale victory over previously unbeaten Harvard was played in front of 15,000 people in New York, securing a second straight national championship for the Bulldogs.

New Champions: Yale

1888

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (13-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Notre Dame (1-0), USC (2-0), Washington University (Saint Louis) (1-0), & Yale (13-0)

Yale was the only viable option for a national title claim in 1888. The Bulldogs allowed zero points to be scored on them and took out undefeated Princeton in the season finale.

Harvard and Yale did not meet this season, with the Crimson’s lone loss coming at Princeton, 8-6.

New Champions: Yale

1889

Claimed Champions: Princeton

Contenders:
Princeton (10-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Butler (2-0), Iowa College (Grinnell) (1-0), Lake Forest College (1-0), Miami (OH) (4-0), Notre Dame (1-0), Princeton (10-0), Trinity College (Duke) (2-0), USC (2-0), & Washington University (Saint Louis) (2-0)

Princeton reestablished themselves as champions of college football after taking down Yale, who was certainly the team of the decade. Five Tigers players were selected to the All-American team, which was a new concept that honored the nation’s best. In 1889, the All-American team consisted only of players from the Big Three schools (Harvard, Princeton, and Yale).

Five of the 11 All-Americans were Tigers players, including Edgar Allan Poe, second cousin to the famous writer of the same name.

New Champions: Princeton

1880 – 1889

YearChampions
1880Princeton & Yale
1881Yale
1882Yale
1883Yale
1884Yale
1885Princeton
1886Yale
1887Yale
1888Yale
1889Princeton
New CFB National Champions by Year, 1880 – 1889

Team Totals (up to 1889)

TeamChampionshipsYears
Princeton121869, 1870, 1872,
1873, 1874, 1875,
1877, 1878, 1879,
1880, 1885, 1889
Yale121872, 1874, 1876,
1877, 1880, 1881,
1882, 1883, 1884,
1886, 1887, 1888
Rutgers11869
New CFB National Champions by Team, 1869 – 1889

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Reclaiming & Disputing College Football National Champions: 1869 – 1879

The inaugural college football decade looked a lot different than the sport that encapsulates so many campuses today. Improvised rules were made by the home teams and current Ivy League member institutions were at the forefront of new American football, which more closely resembled soccer and rugby in its early days. Here, we take a look at which teams have rightful claims to national championships.

1869

Claimed Champions: New Jersey (Princeton) & Rutgers

Contenders:
Princeton (1-1)
– Loss: at Rutgers (6-4)
Rutgers (1-1)
– Loss: at Princeton (8-0)

The first two college football games were played between Princeton and Rutgers, each winning on their home fields. After the hilarious account of Rutgers’ win at Princeton, one of the new rules Princeton added when Rutgers came to town was the awarding of the “free kick” to any player that caught the ball without it hitting the ground. Apparently, the rule greatly affected the Rutgers squad and resulted in an 8-0 Princeton victory.

There are very few records of the first college football season, but one thing is certain: the lack of a true national champion started here. A third game, which would have acted as the first national championship, was scheduled to be played. Conflicts over which rules to play under and complaints from faculty at both institutions prevented the game from ever happening.

This would alter college football and the culture of not having one true champion for over a century.

New Champions: Princeton & Rutgers

1870

Claimed Champions: Princeton

Contenders:
Princeton (1-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Princeton (1-0)

Columbia joined Princeton and Rutgers as the only three programs in the country. Rutgers was the only team to play both of their available opponents, beating Columbia and losing to Princeton. This was the first true national championship season in college football, with Princeton taking it all after a 6-2 defeat of Rutgers at home.

New Champions: Princeton

1871

No college football games were played in 1871. Princeton played a few exhibition games against Princeton Theological Seminary, but those games are not considered to count towards any type of regular season.

New Champions: N/A

1872

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (1-0)
Yale (1-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Princeton (1-0) & Yale (1-0)

With Yale and Stevens (Institute of Technology) bringing the college football team total to five, the sport made its return after a one-year hiatus.

Princeton beat Rutgers, 4-1, and Yale beat Columbia, 3-0. There is no virtual way to compare these wins, even knowing the fact that Rutgers beat Columbia that season. Using the transitive property to compare team’s opponents is rarely a strong metric, making this another split national championship season.

New Champions: Princeton & Yale

1873

Claimed Champions: Princeton

Contenders:
Harvard (1-0-1)
– Tie: vs McGill (0-0)
Princeton (1-0)
Washington & Lee (4-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Princeton (1-0) & Washington & Lee (4-0)

The beginning of the season consisted of a New York City meeting between Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers, and Yale to decide on what rules would be used for America’s newest sport. Harvard did not attend, continuing to play under their own set of rules.

Harvard faced McGill (Canada) twice in a two-day span that year; the second game, which was the first rugby-style football game ever played in the United States, ended in a scoreless tie. Both games were technically played in May of 1874.

Washington and Lee played all four of their games against the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), but little is known about the Generals’ first season.

Princeton took down Yale, who was their fellow co-national champion from the previous year, in the first game played between the two institutions.

New Champions: Princeton

1874

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (2-0)
Yale (3-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Princeton (2-0), Tufts (1-0), & Yale (3-0)

Another season in which Princeton and Yale avoided each other, both of them went undefeated in the 1874 season. Princeton defeated Columbia and Rutgers while Yale defeated Stevens and Columbia (twice) handily.

Harvard only played one contest in 1874, where they traveled to Montreal for a rematch with McGill.

For the second time in three years, this was a split title for Princeton and Yale.

New Champions: Princeton & Yale

1875

Claimed Champions: Columbia & Princeton

Contenders:
Columbia (4-1-1)
– Tie: at Rutgers (1-1)
– Loss: at Princeton (6-2)
Harvard (4-0)
Princeton (2-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Harvard (4-0) & Princeton (2-0)

Columbia was at the forefront of scheduling and actually traveling to play their opponents. However, their 1875 claim to a national title is an obvious dispute due to their 6-2 loss at Princeton.

Harvard finished the season 4-0 with wins over the Canada All-Stars (twice), Tufts, and Yale. The blemish on Harvard’s schedule came on Independence Day, 1875. Harvard lost to Tufts on that summer day in Cambridge but does not consider it apart of their 1875 season. Instead, they consider it a continuation of the 1874 season. Tufts, on the other hand, considers the summer victory an 1875 contest.

Princeton is the deserving national champion of 1875 due to their 2-0 record that consisted of wins over Columbia and Stevens, who each played six games that season.

New Champions: Princeton

1876

Claimed Champions: Yale

Contenders:
Yale (3-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Rutgers (1-0) & Yale (3-0)

For the first time in college football’s young history, Princeton did not finish the season with at least a share of the national title.

Rutgers played one game in ’76, defeating Stevens by a score of 3-2.

Yale took down Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia while not allowing a single score against them. On the Thanksgiving Day contest against Princeton, the first ever forward pass was used on a Yale touchdown; Yale’s Walter Camp ran for a significant gain before tossing the ball forward to O.D. Thompson, who ran the ball in for a touchdown. After a dispute between the two teams on the legitimacy of the play, the referee tossed a coin. Yale won the coin toss, and the play stood.

New Champions: Yale

1877

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (2-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0)
Yale (3-0-1)
– Tie: vs Princeton (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Amherst (1-0)

Both Princeton and Yale took down Columbia in the 1877 season. In the season finale, Princeton and Yale played to a 0-0 tie on a neutral field in Hoboken, New Jersey. Under rules created before the start of the game, reaching the endzone only afforded that team a chance to kick through the goalpost. Reaching the endzone alone awarded no points. Princeton never reached the endzone, while Yale did twice and was unable to convert their kicks.

This is the third season in the first decade of college football where Princeton and Yale would share claim to another national championship.

New Champions: Princeton & Yale

1878

Claimed Champions: Princeton

Contenders:
Princeton (6-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Princeton (6-0)

Princeton asserted their collegiate dominance in 1878, beating Penn (twice), Stevens, Rutgers, Harvard, and Yale. The first of the sport’s dynasties, Princeton made sure to leave no doubt as to which school boasted the best football program.

New Champions: Princeton

1879

Claimed Champions: Princeton & Yale

Contenders:
Princeton (4-0-1)
– Tie: vs Yale (0-0
Yale (3-0-2)
– Ties: vs Harvard (0-0), vs Princeton (0-0)

Unblemished Recognition: Massachusetts Agricultural College (UMass) (1-0)

Once again, the national title ran through the neutral grounds of Hoboken, New Jersey, where Princeton and Yale played to a 0-0 tie at the end of the season.

The edge that Princeton has is its 1-0 victory over Harvard, a team that Yale tied that year. This was the Tiger’s ninth national title during the early years of American college football.

New Champions: Princeton

1869 – 1879

YearChampions
1869Princeton & Rutgers
1870Princeton
1871N/A
1872Princeton & Yale
1873Princeton
1874Princeton & Yale
1875Princeton
1876Yale
1877Princeton & Yale
1878Princeton
1879Princeton
New CFB National Champions by Year, 1869 – 1879

Team Totals (up to 1879)

TeamChampionshipsYears
Princeton91869, 1870, 1872,
1873, 1874, 1875,
1877, 1878, 1879
Yale41872, 1874,
1876, 1877
Rutgers11869
New CFB National Champions by Team, 1869 – 1879

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